Do Bucknell Administrators Believe in Free Speech or Not?

By on September 28, 2009

After mid-level administrators shut down or censored several of the activities of the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC), FIRE placed Bucknell on our Red Alert list as one of the "worst of the worst" for protecting liberty on campus. After months of administrative recalcitrance, however, a letter published in the August 27 issue of The Counterweight (a newspaper published by BUCC) offers hope for a quick resolution.

Bucknell undergraduate Scott Teagarden, in his letter responding to a previous Counterweight article about the shutdown of BUCC’s satirical "affirmative action bake sale," writes:

The article reads, "If the Administration had its way, of course, this dialogue would never exist." Having personally had conversations with President [Brian] Mitchell, [Secretary of the University] Dave Myers, Provost [Michael] Smyer, Assistant Provost [Robert] Midkiff, Dean [Susan] Hopp, and VP [for Communications Pete] Mackey and spoken on this exact same issue I can explicitly say that this statement is in complete contradiction with their views.

FIRE hopes that Teagarden is accurate in his recollection of his conversations with those administrators. If he is, then we might be able to chalk up the recent oppression to a couple of rogue administrators rather than to a conscious, institutional effort to silence BUCC.

Specifically, it has been Associate Dean of Students Gerald Commerford and General Counsel Wayne Bromfield who have been at the core of the problem with free expression. It was Commerford who first claimed he had the "opportunity" to shut down BUCC’s bake sale, first citing a discrepancy in the group’s application materials, but later insisting that the group could never hold any such bake sale even with optional pricing. Commerford even suggested that the public areas of the campus were altogether inappropriate for debating affirmative action, saying on tape that "It’s a political issue, ok; it needs to be debated in its proper forum, ok, and not on the public property of the campus." Bromfield, for his part, not once but twice ignored documentary evidence from FIRE in defending Bucknell’s unprincipled violations of its free speech promises and Bucknell’s distortions of its nondiscrimination policy and "Sales and Solicitation" policy (which has recently been amended).

Teagarden continues:

In conversations with them they have explicitly stated and supported your right to hold such an event … The university is more than willing to support and publicize discussions focused on education and dialogue.

In the hopes of gaining confirmation of these professionsrepudiation of the statements by Commerford and BromfieldFIRE wrote to each of the administrators cited in Teagarden’s letter. As Adam wrote in FIRE’s letter:

If Bucknell will permit expressive activity such as affirmative action bake sales and will permit the non-disruptive distribution of literature without requiring prior approval, FIRE will gladly and immediately remove Bucknell University from our Red Alert list, which warns prospective students against attending schools such as Bucknell because of the schools’ violations against free expression on campus.

Hopefully these administrators will respond affirmatively and uphold the statements made by Teagarden, and in doing so ensure Bucknell’s exit from FIRE’s Red Alert list. They’ll have a chance to do so tomorrow when Adam visits Bucknell to lecture on BUCC’s mistreatment.

Schools: Bucknell University